The teacher workforce is in better shape than it was last year, but there are still major challenges. Mental health issues are negatively affecting teaching and learning, about half of teachers don’t feel respected by the general public, and a third of the workforce is considering quitting.
Those are some of the findings from the second annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey, a nationally representative poll of nearly 1,200 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College. The survey, which was fielded in January, was designed to replace the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which ran for more than 25 years and ended in 2012.
The survey results describe the state of the teacher workforce as it emerges from the pandemic.
In some ways, teaching has been easier this year than in the past two pandemic school years, teachers said in interviews. COVID-19 cases are down, so there is less disruption to the school calendar, teachers are less isolated, and students are readjusting to classroom routines and expectations, they said.
But in other ways, teachers are very much still grappling with the fallout of the pandemic. They’re confronting gaps in students’ academic knowledge, an uptick in mental health challenges for both themselves and their students, and worsening student misbehavior.
Here are seven key takeaways from the new results.
1. Teacher job satisfaction levels increased, but they’re still down from a decade ago.
The survey found that 66 percent of teachers said they are satisfied with their job—up 10 percentage points from last year. Twenty percent said they are “very satisfied,” up from 12 percent last year.
Although teachers’ satisfaction ratings increased from last year’s apparent all-time low, they are still down significantly from a decade ago. During the 25-plus years that the MetLife survey ran, the share of “very satisfied” teachers never dropped below 33 percent, and that was in 1986.
This year, the survey found that satisfaction rates were highest among Gen Z teachers, who are age 26 and younger. Eighty percent of those teachers say they’re satisfied at work, compared to 68 percent of Millennials (age 27 to 42), 62 percent of Gen X (age 43 to 58), and 68 percent of Boomers (age 59 to 77).
Also, teachers who work in more affluent schools—where less than a quarter of students receive free or reduced-price meals—are more likely than their peers elsewhere to report being satisfied with their jobs.
2. More than a third of teachers say they’re likely to quit in the next two years.
This year, 35 percent of teachers say they’re likely to quit and find another job outside of teaching within the next two years. Of those, 14 percent said they were “very likely.”
That’s an improvement from last year, when 44 percent said they were likely to quit, including 20 percent who said they were “very likely.” Still, in 2011, just 29 percent said they were likely to quit within two years, and in 2009, around the time of the Great Recession, only 17 percent of teachers were planning to leave.
Past research has found that many teachers who say they plan to quit won’t actually do so, for either logistical or financial reasons. The Merrimack survey also found that Boomers are most likely to say they plan on quitting within the next two years, likely because they’ve reached retirement age. Still, about a third of all other generations are also eyeing the exit door.
3. Just about half of teachers say they’re respected by the general public.
Most teachers feel respected as professionals within their school communities and by their students’ parents or guardians. But only 55 percent of teachers say they feel like the general public respects them as professionals.
That’s an improvement from last year, when just 46 percent felt respected by the public, but lower than 2011, when 77 percent of teachers said they felt the community treated them as professionals.
4. Teachers feel like they have control in some areas of their jobs, but not others.
Teachers often say they feel left out of decisionmaking. Just a third of teachers say they have a lot of control over their school’s policies, for instance.
Teachers feel they have the most control over their own teaching and pedagogy.
5. Teachers say students’ mental health issues are having a negative impact on student learning.
More than half of teachers say that the current state of students’ mental health is hurting their ability to learn and socialize, as well as negatively affecting educators’ capacity to manage their classrooms.
The survey indicates some improvement: Nearly a third of teachers said their students’ mental health and wellness has improved since the beginning of this school year, while 43 percent said it has remained the same. But about a quarter said their students’ mental health has deteriorated over the school year.
Research has shown—and teacher interviews have confirmed—that children’s mental health challenges have increased since the beginning of the pandemic.
6. Teachers say their own mental health issues are affecting their work.
Forty-two percent of teachers said their teaching and professional growth had suffered this year because of the state of their mental health. And about half of teachers said their colleagues’ work had been negatively affected.
More than half of teachers said that the mental health and wellness of teachers in their school has declined over the course of the 2022-23 school year. Just 10 percent said it had improved, and 34 percent said it had remained the same.
7. Teachers want more school and district programming for mental health.
Districts’ mental health programming for teachers is sparse, the survey results indicate. Only 2 percent of teachers said their district offers extensive supports for employees’ mental health and wellness.
But teachers had plenty of ideas for how their school or district could support their mental well-being, starting with a pay raise or bonus to reduce financial stress.
Teachers also weighed in on how their school or district could better support student mental health. The most popular option was giving parents support to help their children at home, followed by hiring more counselors, psychologists, or social workers.